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Partners join forces for week of action to tackle metal and waste crime

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Last week, officers and partner agencies across the UK took part in a national week of action in the continued fight against metal and waste crime.

The week, led by the British Transport Police, saw police forces from across the country, join experts from the Joint Unit for Waste Crime (JUWC), Historic England, Network Rail, BT and other national infrastructure organisations, to carry out coordinated enforcement action.

From Monday 12 to Friday 16 October, more than 45 partners came together and completed over 500 visits to scrap metal dealers, vehicle dismantlers and illegal waste sites, and stopped over 800 vehicles.

Six arrests were made, 70 out of court disposals for offences identified, 69 other offences under investigation and ten loads of stolen property recovered.

During these visits and checks, officers searched for stolen metal, and examined trader’s financial records to ensure they were complying with the Scrap Metal Dealers Act.

The introduction of the legislation in 2013, which brought in strict licensing requirements on dealers and identity checks for people selling scrap metal, contributed to a significant decrease in metal theft.

Despite this theft has continued, with some offenders taking advantage of a quieter network during the Covid-19 pandemic to target isolated locations.

As part of the week, the JUWC conducted a series of waste site inspections to ensure businesses held environmental permits and met other legal requirements.

The taskforce, which launched in January 2020, brings together law enforcement agencies, environmental regulators, HMRC and the National Crime Agency to target those who deal in serious and organised waste crime. These perpetrators are often involved in other organised criminal activity, including metal crime.

Sectors severely affected by metal and waste crime include, transport, power and telecommunications. Heritage sites, including places of worship, are also increasingly being targeted with metal stolen from roofs and altars, causing irreparable structural damage and historic loss.

British Transport Police National Lead for Metal Crime, Superintendent Mark Cleland, said: “The aim of the week was to put the positive work being done to tackle metal and waste crime in the spotlight, encourage people to report incidents and warn would-be offenders that we will take action against them.

“We’re working with partners across the entire country and throughout the metals recycling industry to target those who we suspect of flouting the law or operating outside of their licence.

“By taking a multi-agency approach, we are maximising our ability to identify those who are attacking our national infrastructure and historical buildings, making it harder for them to sell stolen metal and gain from their activities.”

Crime and Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said: “Metal and waste crime can have a significant impact on those that are targeted.

“I welcome this week of action, which has seen partners achieve significant results together to crack down on metal crime.

“The Scrap Metal Dealers Act continues to be a powerful tool in the fight against this form of criminality.” 

Phil Davies, JUWC enforcement officer, said: “This operation displays how the Joint Unit for Waste Crime brings different agencies together from across the UK to stop criminals who are not only involved in waste crime but also many other illicit activities which seriously affect communities and the environment.

“We know that criminals will use different types of waste as a way to make significant financial gain, and by using the combined resources and powers of different agencies, we will continue to target, disrupt and bring to justice these criminal enterprises.”

Mark Harrison, Head of Heritage Crime Strategy at Historic England said: “The theft of metal from historic church buildings is serious and organised crime. Removing large areas of lead or copper from roofs has not just a serious financial effect on church communities, but a huge effect on their morale.

“The metal stolen will have both historic and cultural value and removing it leads to irreparable damage to protected historic sites and buildings, which is why tackling this problem is so important.

“At Historic England we are working with partners to assess the scale of the metal theft problem across the country and develop a coordinated national approach to protect those churches at the highest risk of crime.

“As well as commissioning a detailed analysis of this type of crime in collaboration with Kent Police and OPAL - the National Intelligence Unit for Serious Organised Acquisitive Crime, based with West Mercia Police and the National Police Leads for Heritage and Cultural Property Crime and Metal Theft, we are developing a series of measures to ensure we are best equipped to prevent and investigate this pervasive form of criminality.

“This will include training for local police teams to identify stolen heritage metal when on duty, encouraging scrap metal dealers, smelters and salvage yards to contact the authorities when offered suspected stolen materials, and ensuring churches and communities have access to specialist advice that will allow them to assess risk and implement effective preventative measures.

“In turn these steps will enable congregations and local communities to minimise the damage and loss if attacked or arrange the necessary measures to prevent crime altogether. The assessment will be coordinated by Andy Bliss, former Chief Constable of Hertfordshire Constabulary, Mark Harrison, Head of Heritage Crime Strategy for Historic England and a board of expert practitioners.”

Advice on how to prevent metal and waste crime:

  • Report any suspicious activityIf you see any suspicious activity, report it to the police by calling 101, or 999 if an offence is in progress. If you spot something on the railway, contact BTP by texting 61016 or calling 0800 40 50 40. Reports of metal and waste crime should be made as soon as possible to increase the chances of detection.
  • Make it harder to steal - Tackling the crime is about prevention as much as detection. We encourage people to remain vigilant and consider security measures to protect metal assets, such as storing in safe places and investing in security devices.
  • Make it harder to dispose of – Marking property makes metal harder to dispose of and helps the police trace it if it has been stolen. Property marking is available for most metal assets from catalytic converters to historical artefacts.


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Coventry metal crime operation

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Environment Agency check

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Western Power & Network Rail check cable

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Western power check

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